The Zen-Cart Review

I've recently had the pleasure of overhauling an eCommerce website using an open source content management system called the Zen Cart. This handy package is an entire website solution with product management and control any webmaster or store owner could ask for. Upgrades, plug-ins and modules are available for extra and special functionality. There is a team behind the Zen Cart and an open source community growing in size. This ensures you will always be able to find a pro to maintain, upgrade or make major changes to your Zen-Cart website. Even if you don't find someone familiar with the Zen-Cart specifically - but who is a PHP developer, reviewing and creating code in Zen Cart is structured and based on a clever override system. The developer can seperate all of his work from the Zen-Cart core, for easy management and testing and using on other Zen-Cart websites.

Built in is a product management system complete with inventory counts and highly configurable product options. Over the years, developers have submitted to the Zen Cart team what would be useful to define and describe products and their categories. The Zen-Cart team has developed these ideas and more into the package. Like the "Attribute Controller". A feature of the Zen-Cart that allows the granular management of options. Each product can have unlimited options and these options can be priced individually. For example if you are selling a suitcase, some options might be color, material, and zipper selection. Some options, like the gold zipper might cost more than the silver zipper and can be priced accordingly. The powerful intuitive interface puts these options at your fingertips.

I say powerful for a reason. On the Zen-Cart website there are hundreds of documents for everyone from developers to regular non-programmers. There are documents on adding products and options, setting up shipping, changing the home page and custom pages, customizing newsletters and tons more. Much of the entire setup is self-explanatory enough using an internet browser, but it's always good to have a reference. On the Zen Cart reference there are hundreds of documents; you can print them off - or a developer could for you - and revise them specifically to your situation.

That means the majority of the management of your website can be done with a regular internet browser like Internet Explorer 7 and doesn't require the programmer, just the Zen-Cart framework. Choose to have the programmer get you started - and help you and your staff along the way. Managing the back-end once your website is live can be up to you. Leave it up to yourself, your staff, Scott eSolutions, or Scott eSolutions staff! The management is mostly the Zen-Cart admin webpage and no programming, so you may choose to forget about it and simply reap the benefits of some or more online sales!

By default, the Zen-Cart install of version 1.3.8 includes the following features. Being so many, some can usually be disabled by the programmer when tailoring a site to the clients needs. There are even more features available by downloading additional modules from

Features included with Zen-Cart by default
  • configure your image sizes and customer details
  • choose layout settings to use for the spotlight listings
  • pick which details to show on your product details page
  • discount coupons
  • customer group discounts
  • quantity discounts
  • one-time charges
  • minimum and maximum purchases per product
  • edit your policies pages with HTML
  • create and manage your product attributes
  • manage product reviews, featured products, specials and sales
  • order status emails and records of the customer account
  • gift certificates
  • referral tools
  • downloadable virtual products
  • price and taxation control
  • banner advertising controls
  • newsletter creation and sending
  • content management tool EZ-Pages
  • multiple language support
  • multiple tax support
  • multiple shipping methods
  • multiple currency support
  • multiple payment methods

The next major release is version 1.4 and is schedule for release January 2009. This will include some of the popular modules built-in to core and will not require the programmer to individually install them. Modules are components of the website that contain functionality. Extra modules let you really customize your Zen Cart specific to your situation. It's always a good idea to keep your software up to date too and updates will be necessary over time. It is a simple process but best managed by a PHP or Zen Cart expert.

Should you run into problems or need help with your Zen-Cart website? There are hundreds of people online at any one time on What struck me was the participation of the main Zen Cart developers in the support forums helping people. I was personally assisted by the lead developer, the grand-daddy of them all! Except she is a woman and her name is Linda McGrath. Friendly and helpful to say the least.

I can't leave out one feature I appreciate a lot. EZ-Pages. These can be used by non-programmers with a little learning curve. They allow you to build webpages using a Rich-Text editor, that stay within the confines of your existing site. Useful for staff updating and creating pages on their own website. The EZ-pages interface even allows you to add your page to a menu, create new menu items, open in a new window, or just put content up on your own schedule.

Being open source, freely downloadable and modifiable for your purpose you can download and install this on your website and sell your products online sooner than you may think. Put a PHP developer in charge and he may be able to install extra modules, also freely downloadable at This might be something like a Fedex module to provide shipping quotes via Fedex servers at transaction time, or something to allow users to share photos. If you have something very specific you would like to integrate, this can be focused on and perfected since the Zen-Cart framework is built on a solid foundation already. If a PHP developer builds a specific module for you, you may agree to submit it to Zen-Cart to be available for use by others. Like any open-source project, the good submissions get integrated into the core for the next release. After 4+ years, the Zen-Cart has become an all encompassing website solution to sell and manage products online. Ask if Zen-Cart is the right CMS for you!

I give the Zen-Cart a 10/10 and recommend it for use by small business business owners based on easy setup, a wide-range of administration capabilities and available documentation. Include the support forums, working payment and shipping modules installed by default, the EZ-Pages feature, and every other reason in the table above. I look forward to recommending it to more people!